04/29/2014 11:15 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How to Write A University-Wide Email: A Guide for Administrators


Being a part of the upper echelon of higher education administration comes with significant responsibilities, as you know. Chief among them is the occasional need to write emails sent to the entire university community. These emails will likely address hot-button issues such as sexual assault, tuition increases and the sudden disappearance of a giant ostrich statue due to reports of vandalism inflicted upon said statue.

Does the thought of speaking honestly and clearly to students make you a bit nervous? Students, with their goddamn picket signs, their social media, their general lack of understanding of the difficulty of your job, and most horrifying of all, their voices. Communicating with them might make you question who's teaching them how to do all of this criticism and noise-making nonsense in the first place.

Fear not, dear administrator -- there actually exists a secret art of university email writing that has been passed down from generations of advertisers, to generations of politicians, to, at some indeterminate point in history, generations of higher education professionals!

However, as I'm sure you already know, demonstration is far more telling than a series of pretty words arranged in some loose semblance of order. Therefore, I'll demonstratively tell you about this secret art with pretty words arranged in some loose semblance of order.*

Let's break down a few paragraph snippets in a recent email sent by Tufts University to its students regarding sexual misconduct.

1. The Bravado Intro

"I take sexual misconduct seriously and am committed to making the university a leader on the issue."

2. The-Apology-That-Kind-of-Almost-Looks-Like-a-Justification-But-Sounds-Nice-and-Promising

"We have worked hard in recent years to improve how we respond to complaints of sexual misconduct ... I regret if we have not always met the needs of our community. We must commit to doing better, now and in the future."

3. The Shit Hits the Fan Here but Shhhh -- Let's Cover It up With Bulky Language

"Over the past few years, Tufts University has been involved in discussions with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education over the handling of a 2010 sexual misconduct case. We have cooperated fully with OCR during the four-year investigation. Only after we had signed a voluntary resolution agreement of this matter did OCR inform us that they believe the University's current policies are out of compliance with Title IX. We strongly disagree with this finding and, regretfully, decided to withdraw from the voluntary agreement. We are disappointed with the department's course of action and remain committed to resolving this disagreement. We have issued a public statement regarding our negotiations with OCR, which can be found at:"

The Rest of the Email in Summary

Don't read that above part again! Seriously, just read on. All the stuff we've been doing makes a potential loss of federal funding and general decency ok! There's a website and we're going to hire somebody and we're going to hold hands and make sexual misconduct go away together! Just don't look too much into that Title IX stuff. You should be quiet and trust us.

This is the secret art of the three Ps: promise, promotion and prevarication. The trick is to make a whole bunch of broad, sentimental promises, promote what's already been done, and most importantly, prevaricate from the sad reality at hand. If you do the first two well, the last one comes easily enough.

Not your style? Don't worry, there are actually multiple secret arts to university email writing! The second is a little tactic called "shock and awe." Basically, you blow your students away with such debonair creativity and profundity that they drop their books and Natty Lights and student loans and do exactly what you want them to.

Here's another Tufts email that does just that. It's titled #tuftsbestdayever: **

Today, your tuition ran out.

Good news: thousands of alumni and friends have stepped in to keep Tufts -- and you and your friends -- running through May. Because when your tuition runs out, philanthropy takes over.

Even full tuition doesn't cover your *entire* Tufts experience. When all of the money raised in tuition has been used to pay for everything from internships to your favorite professor to keeping the Wi-Fi on, your fellow Jumbos have your back. Tufts will stay Tufts, thanks to the donors.

You mean the hundreds of thousands of dollar of debt your students put themselves into to get an education wasn't enough? How could they have been so presumptuous to assume a small mortgage could actually pay for an undergraduate experience? Seriously, they need to know that at least half of their future cardboard box homes should be offered up as tribute to Jumbo.

Even more insulting: They actually think Tufts stays Tufts because of intellectual curiosity, determined students, and open-mindedness. Idiots. Clearly, donors are what keep Tufts Tufts.

How could a revelation like that not shock them into action?

Put either of these secret arts into practice in your own university emails, and I guarantee you'll get student response!

*See what I did there?

**Despite its brilliant conception, not a single soul tweeted or Facebook posted about #tuftsbestdayever. Tragic, really.